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- 7 -

by Ivan Bilibin


'Well that's just the limit!' hissed Malvina through gritted teeth, when their father had gone. 'Getting us into trouble! - She'll pay for this! I'm going to catch her out if it kills me! I'm sure that whoever comes to visit her can only be coming through the window.'

'But it's so small, Malvina, how could anyone possibly squeeze through it?'

'Look, we've been watching her door for weeks, and we haven't seen a thing, so it can't be that way.

I'll tell you what I've been thinking. Elvira, dear, what about you keeping watch at night in the old barn opposite the house, until we find out how her secret visitor gets into the room.'

'Me? Why me?' said Elvira sulkily. 'Why not you, Malvina?'

'Well, you see, I'll be keeping an eye on the door, just in case he comes that way.'

'But I don't see why I have to be the one out in the barn!'

'But you know how I fall asleep so easily Elvira dear, and I do get so very bad-tempered when I don't get a full night's sleep. You should know that by now.'  There was no mistaking the threat in Malvina's voice.

'Well, perhaps you're right,' muttered Elvira frowning sulkily, 'but I still think we should take it in turns.'

'Yes of course we will Elvira dear,' said Malvina smoothly, 'but I'm trusting you to do the first couple of nights, as I'm sure you can do it so well.'

Realising she didn't have much choice in the matter Elvira resigned herself to spending her nights out in the the barn keeping watch on Raisa's window.

Whenever her sulking became unbearable, Malvina would take an odd turn at keeping watch.

The father shook his head in dismay at the sight of all three of his daughters yawning and dozing off at all hours during the day.

'I don't know what's going on around this house - it seems as if I'm the only one doing any housework around here. The rest of you just seem to be half asleep all day!'

Already in a rather bad mood from lack of sleep the night before, Malvina replied: 'Yes, but as we've already told you Father, it's because Raisa is always chattering away in her room at night. It keeps us awake.'

'Hah!' was his only answer to this as he washed the dishes, clattering them noisily around the sink.

Although they often fell asleep on the job, the watching and waiting of Malvina and Elvira in the barn at night eventually paid off. They noticed the falcon flying in and out of the window several times.

At first, they did not pay much attention to this, as Raisa often fed wild birds, which sometimes became tame enough to come to her.

But after a while, they noticed that whenever the falcon flew in the window, the talking and laughter began again. 'I'm certain that the falcon has something to do with her secret visitor,' muttered Malvina one morning after a another night out in the barn.

'But, how could it be? Falcons can't talk!' exclaimed Elvira.

'Yes, but I've heard the old ones in the village say that there are some humans who can understand the language of birds. Perhaps Raisa has these powers.' said Malvina.

'You could be right,' said Elvira after thinking this over for a minute or two.

'But we've got to put a stop to it;' continued Malvina, 'for if word got out about this, someone might think she's a witch - and we might also get branded as witches. You know how superstitious the villagers are!'

Elvira looked at her in horror - 'You mean they'd even suspect us, how awful!'

'It's quite possible. And for Father's sake, we've got to put a stop to it now before it's too late!' said Malvina fiercely.

'Yes, as you say, we've got to think of a plan, for Father's sake,' agreed Elvira.

'We could try to block up the window, to stop the falcon coming through it,' said Malvina with a sly smile.

'But she might notice it and take it away.'

'Not if she was asleep!' said Malvina.

'But how? Oh, I think I see... You mean a sleeping potion? Doesn't Father take something like that to help him sleep at night?' said Elvira.

'Now you get it! I know where he keeps it. He'd never miss a few drops. And now for the second part of our plan; what do you say to this? We put something against the window so the falcon can't get in. That something has to be nice and sharp so he doesn't want to come back again - but what?' Malvina frowned.

Elvira thought about this for a moment. 'What about those rusty old knives out in the barn? And there's a few old nails out there too. They just might do the trick!'

'Not a bad idea, isn't there a ladder out there too?'

'Yes, I think so.'

'Well, this evening I'll put a few drops of sleeping potion, perhaps even more than a few, into her drink and then she won't notice a thing when her precious falcon tries to flap against the window!' What do you think of my plan now? grinned Malvina.

'Perfect! Let's go and sharpen our knives!'

That evening when it was dark, Malvina and Elvira took the ladder from the barn, along with the other things they had prepared. They climbed up to the window and put rusty knives and sharp nails crossways outside it.

Later on, Malvina sent Raisa out to the henhouse, so that Elvira could make a quick dash up to Raisa's room to draw the curtains. 'Let's hope she doesn't notice anything!' whispered Elvira to Malvina as she sneaked back down the stairs.

'Don't worry, I wasn't too sparing with the nightcap!' Malvina smirked back at her.

That evening they kept Raisa busy downstairs. After she had taken her supper, and unknown to her, the sleeping potion, they kept her talking until they were certain she was almost asleep.

'I don't know why I'm so sleepy this evening,' she murmured yawning, as they almost had to carry her up the stairs.

'Well, that's what comes of chattering away to yourself all night long, I suppose,' muttered Malvina under her breath.

'Oh, just let me sleep please,' Raisa sighed as she slumped back onto the bed already snoring lightly.' The other two winked at each other and said 'Good night, dear Raisa and sleep well.' There was no reply. Raisa was already in a deep sleep.

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